The Dubai-Bollywood link is an old and strong one.
Indian actors and filmmakers often think of Dubai as their second home, and many have even purchased property in the emirate.
Despite this, Dubai cannot yet boast of a truly homegrown Bollywood production, actor or director. But these wishes are coming true all at once this year.
The first Bollywood film to be shot almost entirely in Dubai – Dollars, directed by the long-time Dubai resident Sameer Khan – was announced earlier this month. While Dollars is in the early stages of shooting, another film with a Dubai connection is almost ready for release: Fattu Saala.
Produced under the banner of Showman International in association with Psychotic Brothers and Sugar Candy Entertainment and made on a modest budget of nine million Indian rupees (Dh558,000), the film is directed by the Dubai-born Aziz Zee, who wore more than just the director’s hat for the project.
“I wrote the story, screenplay and dialogue for the film along with Mohamed Jaffer and Wasim Khan,” says the 35-year-old Zee. “I’m also acting in the film.”
Zee remembers how it all started in his early years in Dubai when he often signed up for extra-curricular activities, including theatre.
“I got most of my acting experience from performing in various school plays. I have always been keen on acting and crazy about movies.”
He laughs as he recalls how enamoured he was with the 1994 Tom Cruise film Interview with the Vampire, and how he went to the Galleria Cinema to watch it an astounding 11 times.
“The only exposure I ever had of the film industry was watching movies every week. There was no one I knew personally who was working in films, and I wasn’t exposed to the industry at all, as I was growing up,” he says.
Zee made his Bollywood debut in 2004 with a small part in a Rajshri Productions film, Uuf Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai.
“It has taken me 10 years to get this far: from a small role in a film to directing Fattu Saala. All my friends in Dubai have helped make this film in some way or the other, from the photographer Tina Patni to Natasha Mulani, who is helping me promote the film. If nothing else, it was their love and support that helped me get this far,” he says.
“All the characters and scenes in this film are inspired by true events, as it is based on a real-life character with whom I had interacted a couple of times: Fateh Khan, aka Fattu Bhai. He was a gangster, living in the slums of Mumbai, who ended up being shot dead by his own friends. The film is about this gangster’s rise and fall in the world of crime.”
According to Zee, the biggest challenge he faced while working on the film was shooting on location in Mumbai’s slums. “I didn’t want to shoot in a studio or on a constructed set. I wanted to shoot at actual locations to keep it authentic. It was a real challenge shooting in the slums. We faced logistical problems and security concerns but in the end it worked out well.
“The entire team was very cooperative, patient and understanding and that helped a lot. In fact, every moment spent making this film has been a joy. Each moment will always be etched in my memory, specially working with fantastic actors such as Shahwar Ali, Mumaith Khan, DJ Akbar Sami, IshQ Bector, Shakir Shaikh, Amrita Dubey and Nofel Izz.”
Nofel Izz, like Zee, is also a Dubai kid. “We are childhood friends,” says Zee. “Actually, we are more like brothers than friends. We have known each other for more than 28 years now. We have grown up together. So it was inevitable for us to end up working together as well, especially since we work in the same industry. If there is one thing I know, it’s that he will be a part of every project I do.”
Izz says: “For Fattu Saala, I was already in Mumbai working on my music album with Crescendo Music. Aziz offered me a part that he thought I would be perfect for.
“Bollywood is very hard to break into. I need to thank Aziz for my break. He has spent the past 10 years working on getting into the industry. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
A prominent member of the cast is DJ Akbar Sami, the man who reintroduced Bollywood remixes in 1997, and who has not appeared on screen as an actor before.
“I have known Akbar for a long time and I accidentally bumped into him at a salon in Mumbai. He asked me what I was up to and I told him about the film. It then occurred to me that he would be perfect for this really strong character in the film,” Zee recalls. “So, I told him, and he got on board. When you watch the film, you will be surprised at how well he has given life to the character of Ghoda Bhai. I don’t think anyone else could have done it better.”
Sami has also composed the title track for the film, The Fattu Mix.
Also featured in the cast is IshQ Bector, the controversial Indo-Canadian singer and composer who burst onto the scene in 2008 with the hit Aye! Hip Hopper.
The “item” girl Mumaith Khan gets one of her first big acting roles in this film. Khan has played small parts and made cameo appearances in more than 70 Telugu, Hindi, Tamil and Kannada films.
Zee, who has now begun work on his second film, says he hopes the film does well in Dubai.“The best years of my life have been growing up in Dubai,” says Zee. “Dubai will always be my home. I can’t think of living anywhere else. My best friends, my family – everyone is here.”
There is no confirmed date for the release of Fattu Saala, but it is anticipated to be out in cinemas a few weeks after Eid.
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